I bet a lot of you handsome devils have had the pleasure of drinking Heady Topper. I don't want to give away the whole punch line to an upcoming Drunkspin, but, just between you and me: pretty good shit, right?
The rating sites consider it to be one of the very best American beers, and although it's a double IPA (not my favorite style), I can speak no ill. It's not distributed outside of Vermont, so I rarely drink it, but I'm thrilled whenever one of my chump friends blows an entire weekend skulking around the wilds of Very Western New Hampshire trying to dig some up to smuggle back down into the Continental U.S.
I love to tease the beer hunters, but truth be told, I might be willing to take the trip myself sometime within the next week, the better to watch the Super Bowl with. One thing I won't do, however, is pay $250 for a case of beer, which is something like the going rate for Heady Topper on whatever part of the Bitcoin-and-bondage internet one must deal with to buy black-market trophy beer.
You know the kids (and, Christ, even some technical adults) who line up in front of sneaker stores 72 hours in advance so they can sleep outside for a few days to net a couple hundred bucks reselling shoes online? I guess people do that with beer, too, which is nuts. I'm on the record as saying that context very much affects my appreciation of beer; waiting in days-long lines and paying several-hundred-percent markups puts a beer in a pretty infuriating context for this humble drinker. I don't want that many unicorn tears in my beer. And that's why I'm positive I'll never drink Westvleteren XII.
Westy XII, as its known among its fans and also people who can't pronounce Westvleteren—a Venn diagram that overlaps to include every single human other than the monks who brew the stuff at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium—is supposed to be the best beer in the world. I don't doubt it, but I'll never be able to confirm it. It's sold only by appointment at the abbey, and only in the small quantity necessary to keep the monks afloat. Except when the monastery needed a new roof in 2012; then they shipped some around the world, including to the United States, and everyone went berserk. I've heard of people paying $500 for a bottle of beer, and I'm sure it got worse than that.
The good news for the sane and/or underfunded rest of us that St. Bernardus Abt 12 is said to taste very similar. St. Bernardus isn't an official Trappist brewery, but it is, in a complicated fashion we won't get into here (because I don't fully understand it), something of an offshoot or descendent of the original brewer-monks at St. Sixtus, the ones who make Westy. At any rate, it's fantastic and relatively affordable, at about $13 for a 750-milliliter corked-and-caged bottle of 10.2-percent alcohol-by-volume Belgian quadrupel ale.
St. Bernardus Abt. 12 pours a deep red-tinged brown with a big fluffy tan head. In addition to a high dose of all your typical Belgian yeast esters and phenols, you also get a nice noseful of plums, raisins, and dried cherries. It tastes like all that plus a bit of biscuity malt, brown sugar, and black pepper. It's fairly chewy, and also changes for the better (the fruit deepens) as it warms up, which is an excellent quality in a high-proof beer that costs near the upper end of what a rational person can spend on a single bottle.
As we've discussed, context matters. There are people in this world for whom spending a week's pay on a beer makes it taste better, and then there are people who aren't ridiculous monsters. If you're in the latter camp, get yourself a bottle of St. B's 12 and know that you're living the just-high-enough life.
This is Drunkspin Daily, the Concourse's adequate source for booze news, reviews, and bullshit. We'll be highlighting a beer a day in this space; please leave suggestions below.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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